Janis Kalnins (Jokerit Helsinki, 2019-2020) 33 wins in 47 games; (Jokerit Helsinki 2018-2019) 22 wins in 37 games
Edgars Masalskis (Dinamo Riga, 2009-2010) 17 wins in 37 games; (Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk, 2012-2013) 17 wins in 32 games
As far as Latvian goaltending is concerned, two names dominate in the KHL era. In recent seasons, Janis Kalnins has emerged as the star man. Like so many Latvian players, he got his KHL start with Dinamo Riga. However, the journey took an unusual route: starting with Metalurgs Liepaja, he played four years in Hungary before coming back to Latvia and joining Dinamo. After a couple of impressive seasons in the maroon jersey, he got a move across the Baltic to Jokerit and blossomed into a top class KHL netminder. And when we say top class, we’re talking ‘good enough to keep the legendary Antti Niemi out of the team’. In the past two seasons he’s established himself as the winningest Latvian goalie of the KHL era, setting a new mark for victories in one season then topping it a year later. The 2019-2020 season was his best yet, with 33 wins in 47 games for Jokerit and an assured start to the playoffs. Had the action continued, Kalnins, still only 28, might well have been in line for his busiest World Championship campaign to date in Switzerland in May. Instead, he’ll be back in Helsinki next season to do it all again.
Before there was Kalnins, there was Edgars Masalskis. Three times an Olympian, his journey towards the KHL started in Liepaja. There was a short spell at Sibir and longer stints in Germany, the Czech Republic and Belarus before he joined Dinamo Riga for the inaugural KHL campaign. In 2009-2010, he posted 17 victories — and was even credited with a goal on a delayed penalty in a 4-2 success at Amur. Three seasons later, he did it again, recording 17 wins in 32 games with Ugra. The wanderlust never left Masalskis — he would play in Slovakia and Switzerland, as well as a spell with Lada Togliatti, before hanging up his skates in 2016. Today, aged 40, he is Dinamo Riga’s goalie coach.
Janis Kalnins (Jokerit Helsinki, 2018-2019) 4 shut-outs in 37 games; (Jokerit Helsinki, 2019-2020) 3 shut-outs in 47 games
Edgars Masalskis (Lada Togliatti, 2015-2016) 3 shut-outs in 38 games
Not surprisingly, the same pair come out on top for shut-outs. Again, Kalnins has the edge with four blanks in 37 games in his first year with Jokerit. He and Masalskis share second place with three shut-outs. The only competition comes from Kristers Gudlevskis. He looked to have the hockey world at his feet when a courageous performance against Canada in Sochi almost saw Latvia steal one of the greatest upsets in international hockey. However, despite a handful of appearances for Tampa Bay, Gudlevskis never found a place in the NHL and he came home to a struggling Dinamo Riga as a replacement for Kalnins in 2018-2019. He managed a couple of shut-outs that season but left the club after a slow start in 2019. The 27-year-old finished the campaign with Fischtown Pinguins in Germany.
Sandis Ozolins (Dinamo Riga 2010-2011) 31 (5+26) points in 41 games
Guntis Galvins (Dinamo Riga, 2011-2012) 30 (8+22) points in 54 games
Sandis Ozolins is a legendary figure in Latvian hockey. In 1996 he lifted the Stanley Cup with Colorado, and this effective two-way defenseman continued playing into his 40s. At the Sochi Olympics in 2014, he was the only player involved who had represented the USSR in international play, winning World Junior silver in 1991, shortly before the country broke up. His subsequent international career was limited as he carved out a successful role for himself in the NHL, making 875 regular season appearances between 1992 and 2008. He joined Dinamo Riga after a one-year sabbatical, captaining the team for four of the next five seasons (the other year saw him wear the ‘C’ with Atlant). Ozolins in the KHL may have been a beat shy of his absolute best, but his 31-point haul in 2010-2011 remains the best single-season return for a Latvian blue-liner.
Next comes Guntis Galvins. Like Kalnins, he made his way to the KHL via a stint in Hungary; like Masalskis, he came home for the inaugural KHL season. Galvins soon established himself as a key part of the Dinamo defense, producing his best season in 2011-2012 when he scored 30 points as Dinamo made the playoffs. The following year, Galvins captained Riga. Subsequently he played briefly for Ugra, had a spell in Sweden and a season with Bolzano in Italy and returned for three more campaigns at Dinamo. Today he’s with Ocelari Trinec in the Czech Republic, where he won the championship in 2019.
Sandis Ozolins (Dinamo Riga, 2011-2012) 10 goals in 50 games
Georgijs Pujacs (Lada Togliatti / Dinamo Riga 2008-2009) 10 goals in 50 games
Arturs Kulda (Sibir Novosibirsk, 2012-2013) 9 goals in 50 games
When it comes to goals, Ozolins is at the top of the charts again. His 10-goal tally in 2011-2012 is as good as any of his compatriots in the KHL. He shares top spot with Georgis Pujacs, who hit double figures in 2008-09. Pujacs, another player who had an early stint at Metalurgs Liepaja, made two attempts to crack North America and also played in Russia and Belarus before beginning his KHL career at Lada. In that inaugural season he potted nine goals in Togliatti before moving to playoff-bound Dinamo Riga to add one more. Subsequently, he represented Sibir and Avangard with distinction before four more seasons with Dinamo and a short stay at Neftekhimik. Now 39, Pujacs remains active in the Latvian championship where he captains Olimp Riga.
Right behind Ozolins and Pujacs we find Arturs Kulda. With just six games for Dinamo Riga in his career, the Leipzig-born 31-year-old is something of an anomaly on a list dominated by players in maroon. Kulda played five seasons in North America, suiting up 17 times in the NHL during spells with Atlanta and Winnipeg, before coming to the KHL with Sibir in 2012-2013. That was his most productive campaign in the league, but he went on to play for Salavat Yulaev, Jokerit, Kunlun Red Star and — most recently — Severstal.
Georgijs Pujacs (Dinamo Riga, 2013-2014) +19 in 43 games
Krisjanis Redlihs (Dinamo Riga, 2011-2012) +17 in 50 games
On the plus/minus ranking, Georgijs Pujacs leads the way. His +19 in 2013-2014, while playing for Dinamo Riga, helped to secure a call-up to the Sochi Olympics, his third appearance at the Games. His closest rival is Krisjanis Redlihs, one of three brothers who played for Dinamo Riga in the early years of the KHL. He achieved +17 in 2012-2013, while brother Mikelis led the team in scoring and fellow D-man Jekabs was another regular for the playoff-bound Latvians. Redlihs’ career brought three trips to the Olympics and four seasons of AHL hockey with Albany River Rats. In the KHL he played 10 seasons with Dinamo before a short, injury-hit spell with Kunlun Red Star. Most recently the 39-year-old appeared in the Latvian championship with Kurbads Riga.
Lauris Darzins (Dinamo Riga, 2010-2011) 44 (21+23) points in 45 games; (Dinamo Riga, 2018-2019) 44 (18+26) points in 62 games.
Mikelis Redlihs (Dinamo Riga, 2011-2012) 42 (13+31) points in 54 games.
Lauris Darzins has played in the KHL since its inception — and most of those seasons were spent with Dinamo Riga. He’s typically among the leading scorers for the club and his KHL career highlights what the return of high-level hockey to Riga brings to Latvian hockey. When Darzins started out, he had just one year as a pro in his hometown, playing in the Latvian championship in 2000-2001. Then he was gone: junior hockey in Finland, two years in the WHL, winning a championship with Kelowna Rockets, top-flight action in Finland, the Czech Republic and Belarus. Riga’s arrival in the KHL brought Darzins home and after a sluggish rookie season with the club, the left winger soon hit top form. Season two brought 31 points, season three had him at almost a point a game as he blazed to the top of his team’s scoring and ranked 16th in the KHL as a whole. He continued in prolific vein in the playoffs, with 10 points in 11 games, and earned a move to Ak Bars. Away from Riga, he never found his best form — save for leading Team Latvia in scoring at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi — but after returning, now as team captain, in 2014-2015, he rediscovered his productive game and repeated his 44-point haul in 2019.
For Mikelis Redlihs, life at Dinamo was often a family affair. The 35-year-old suited up with brothers Krisjanis and Jekubs, both defensemen, during his time at the club. One year after Darzins set his 44-point record, Redlihs matched it, the right winger’s flair and creativity bringing him 31 assists in that campaign. That is an outright record for a Latvian in the KHL, ahead of the 26 helpers from Darzins in 2018-2019. Like Darzins, he got a move to a major Russian club, in this case Lokomotiv, but like his colleague he failed to find his best form away from his native Riga. After two seasons in Yaroslavl he came back home, where he remains a highly respected member of the Dinamo roster.
Kaspars Daugavins (Dynamo Moscow, 2014-2015) 22 goals in 56 games
Lauris Darzins (Dinamo Riga, 2010-2011) 21 goals in 45 games
Martins Karsums (Dinamo Riga, 2011-2012) 21 goals in 54 games
Miks Indrasis (Dinamo Riga, 2017-2018) 21 goals in 56 games
Kaspars Daugavins sets the standard for goalscoring among Latvians in the KHL. The 32-year-old, effective in any role on the forward line, had a long spell in North America where he was a big scorer for Binghampton in its Calder Cup win of 2011 before making 91 NHL appearances with Ottawa and Boston. He got his first taste of the KHL in Riga during the 2012-2013 lock-out and returned to Europe the following year to play in Switzerland. Then came the call from Dynamo Moscow and an immediate impact: Daugavins led the Blue-and-Whites in scoring with 37 points in that first year. However, he was soon on the move again, joining Torpedo early in the following campaign and later joining Spartak. Next season the 32-year-old will suit up for Vityaz.
Three players are right behind Daugavins with 21 goals. Darzins was the first to hit that tally during his all-conquering 2010-2011 campaign. One year on, Martins Karsums matched him in his second full season in the KHL. Like Daugavins, Karsums came with plenty of North American experience and played in the NHL with Boston. Later, the two would be team-mates at Dynamo and Spartak. And a third future Dynamo player, Miks Indrasis, enjoyed his best season in the KHL in 2017-2018 when he captained Riga. His 42-point haul, 21 goals, 21 helpers, was bettered only by Darzins and Redlihs. Aged 29, and thus part of the first generation of Latvian players to emerge from the junior ranks in the KHL era, Indrasis has a strikingly different CV: prior to moving to Moscow in 2018, he played his entire career in his homeland, finding that the KHL offered him ample opportunity to progress at home.